As humans, we have built our societies around the idea of more, “reaching for the stars,” “going for the gold,” always striving, achieving, acquiring. We often don’t know when to stop, even if warning signs blink frantically for our attention. We think we have lost if we settle for less in a world where only more is more and the most is the best. But how much is actually enough? What do we really need? How can we re-program ourselves to live with gratitude for the simple things we already have? These are some of the questions elicited by Steinbeck’s novel, The Pearl.
After their brush house is burned and their canoe destroyed, Kino and Juana flee their village and find themselves pitted against against nature — the same nature that had given them everything they needed in their “other” life.
As demonstrated by a cluster of ants, Kino puts his foot as an obstacle in the ants’ path and watches as they simply march right over him. This symbolism reveals that Kino can not manipulate or rule over nature to suit his desires because nature will defeat him. Every. Single. Time.
Kino is finally able to see the reality of the pearl, when he gazes into its crystal ball-like surface and actually acknowledges what his actions have wrought: a dead man, an assaulted wife, and a sick child. We noted, however, that he continues to blame the pearl, rather than take self-inventory and face the consequences of his own deeds and omissions.
In the final scenes of The Pearl, Steinbeck presents a watering hole as both a “place of life” and “place of death,” because it offers a resource but also creates competition between animals (and human animals) for the riches there. Much like the pearl, itself, it is a paradox in that we all depend on and complete for the materials needed for survival.
Our class was divided on the question of whether Kino’s decision to throw the pearl back into the ocean represents a victory or a defeat. Some thought that Kino’s final act of returning the pearl to nature empowered him, although it will ultimately enslave him in a life of poverty. Others argued that Kino only adds to his tragedy and makes Coyotito’s death all for nothing. Both viewpoints have value in this story of difficult questions and even more difficult answers. Perhaps the best answer is to recognize your friends and family as the most precious pearls you will ever need.
Creative Writing based on Steinbeck’s The Pearl . . . .
Juana by Isabelle Smith
The wind blew in my face as Kino and I made our way away from our brush house. It was cold. I tightened my shawl around myself and around Coyotito. The cut on my chin where Kino had struck me stung. Kino went along like he knew where he was going, but I know he did not. But, I kept my mouth shut and followed him anyway. It was better for everyone when Kino was content, and if I gave my opinion, he would just get angry at me. I tried to keep my mind focused on other things. But I couldn’t. My old life is gone, and there is no turning back now. We are fugitives now.
We walked all night long. I was growing tired, carrying Coyotito on my back. But I had to keep going, I couldn’t stop. Kino didn’t check on me once, to ask if I was okay. But I shouldn’t be surprised. He was too focused on pretending to know where he was going.
At dawn we found a place to lay. I settled down to nurse Coyotito. Kino sat down next to me and told me about trees that were dangerous. I already knew these things, but I played along, acting like I didn’t. It made him feel important. I asked Kino if they would try to follow us. He said they would. They would look for the pearl.
After awhile, Kino fell asleep. But I couldn’t. I just sat there, as still as I could. I thought about everything. Coyotito being stung, the doctor rejecting us, Kino punching the door. Kino finding the pearl, and telling everyone what he would do now that he was rich. The doctor coming to our home and giving Coyotito the medicine that probably hurt him more than it healed him. Kino getting attacked the first time, and how scared I was. Him telling me that we couldn’t throw the pearl back. The dealers trying to trick us. Kino getting attacked a second time. Him turning me down again. Me trying to throw the pearl back, Kino attacking me. How I just got up, didn’t think twice. Kino killing a man. People burning our house down. Hiding in Juan Tomas and Apolonia’s house. And now, being here. How did I end up here? Oh I know. The pearl.
Coyotito stirred, and I set him down on the floor, watching him laugh and play. I smiled back at him. He was the real reason I haven’t given up yet. Not Kino. If I wasn’t here and well, Coyotito would end up dead. Kino couldn’t take care of him on his own.
Kino began to make noises in his sleep, then suddenly woke up. I tried to calm him, explaining that he was only dreaming. But he was uneasy. He told me to keep Coyotito quiet. He got up with his knife. Not again. He does things like this way too often. Like both times he got attacked, and the third time, when he killed the man. It was ridiculous at this point. He was way too dramatic about it. I get it, he was just protecting us, but he drew so much attention to himself. He walked away slowly and quietly. Here we go again. I started to pack up our things. I knew the drill by now.
Juana by Mina Aronczyk
I slit my eyes and tighten my arms around Coyotito to keep the wind and silt out of my eyes. It is dark, and many stars dot the sky. The moon provides a minimal amount of light, and Kino pretends he knows where he’s leading us. In truth, all he knows is that we are walking away from everything we’ve always known. But I follow anyway, it’s not a fight worth fighting.
My lips burn and ache from where Kino hit me. I try and convince myself that it wasn’t him acting that night, but the animal inside of him. He’s never been in control of himself, but at least he could provide for me. That was before a huge gaping hole was punched through the bottom of his canoe.
The rhythm of our feet becomes melodic with the song of family, but when the day’s first light approaches it disappears with the sun, leaving only silence.
I think of our previous life, calm and simple. Good things always change. The thought of the system of what had been our daily life is comforting, and I can almost feel the warm corn cakes between my hands. The quiet patter of Kino’s feet as he got the canoe ready, and Coyotito’s soft laugh as he awoke to another day, just like every day before.
I sit in the small clearing by the side of the road while Kino tries to cover up our footsteps, we are fugitives now. And it is all Kino’s fault.
I have always been the sensible one in this relationship, I keep Kino grounded. And that worked for a while, before the pearl disrupted the peace and turned everything upside down. Before he killed his fellow man.
This is my life now, and I’m expected to deal with it. After all, I’m just a woman.
Juana by John Butsikares
We are walking in the silent night, I am holding Coyotito and the goods Apolonia packed for us. We are walking at night, on this muddy road because of the pearl. It is a curse to our family, especially Kino. We have lost everything because of the pearl. I keep suggesting we throw it into the ocean but no one listens. Coyotito wakes up but I put him back to sleep. What if the buyers were correct, what if the pearl was not worth as much, what if we are going to another town for the buyers to give us the same price. Kino walks in front of me, the bloody knife is in a pouch he is holding.
We stopped on the side of the road to eat. I see the pearl bulging out of Kino’s pocket, I think back to when he hit me. I take out the soft corn cake, I give one to Kino and I split one in half for Coyotito. They will find us and put us in jail. They will steal the pearl. Maybe that’s a good thing, we will learn our lesson. Kino is talking about what will happen in our future, what we will buy. I stay quiet, whenever our hope is up, bad luck strikes.
I wake up in the morning to this sound. “What is it?” I ask. Kino says not to worry. I know they are coming for us. Kino takes out his knife and tells me to quiet the baby. I feel like turning myself in, giving the pearl to them. This is bad luck, we will die like this. Kino leaves me, I trust him, he is a man. I wish I had the pearl, I would crush it up in between two rocks. It’s bad luck, it always was.
The Pearl Diorama Project:
Students created small dioramas inside cardboard boxes on specific scenes/moments in John Steinbeck’s The Pearl. They used cutout hand drawings, magazine clippings, and/or “found” materials like fabric or artificial flowers, card stock, markers etc. for their scenes. Additionally, students wrote museum cards that included the following information about their dioramas:
🐚 A description of the chapter and scene depicted in the diorama
🐚 A quotation that helps explain the scene in the diorama
🐚 A process statement about how the diorama was created (what was the thinking? How were materials used? What challenges came up along the way and how were they addressed?)